Your loving best friend, guardian of the flock, protector of your children is 14 and aging fast. Helping your dog navigate old age can be a challenge. We want our pets to be able to age with dignity, not be in discomfort and have a good quality of life in their senior years.
Look at how humans have progressed. We still may retire at age 65 but its hardly a time to stop and slow down anymore. Men and women in their seventies and eighties continue to lead active, full lives, often hitting the road in an RV or participating in sports.
Older dogs, like their human counterparts, can continue to enjoy a robust life with the help of modern veterinary technology and a few tweaks to their regular routines.
Old age isn’t a disease, but a natural part of life for pets and their owners. Just like with humans your dog may experience changes in their bodies and minds.
Here are six areas to pay attention to when your dog becomes elderly and needs more care.
As dog’s age they become more sensitive to temperature. Their bodies do not thermoregulate as well. They may be colder in winter and hotter in summer.
When my LGD Belle decided to sleep in her dog house instead of the cold ground I knew she was experiencing some temperature fluctuations. So I added lots of clean straw to help insulate her space.
Even inside dogs may get a chill. To help your older dog navigate temperature changes place their bed in a warmer or cooler spot depending on the season. If they move where they typically sleep to another it may be a signal the new spot is more comfortable. Simply place their bed in the new spot to accommodate them.
Now is even more important to go for walks with your dog, play ball, or a rowdy game of tug of war. Keeping your dog active will improve their circulation, keep muscles supple and joints from getting stiff.
If your pet gets tired easier then break down your play into shorter time periods. Make sure they have plenty of freshwater on hand so they do not get dehydrated. Exercise is also important to keep a healthy weight. Inside toys will help to keep the mind and body active.
Arthritis or other joint issues may slow your dog down and make them less inclined to run about. We recommend Excel K9 for dogs with joint or skin issues. Dr. Glaza has been very happy with Excel products and recommends them to dog owners with older dogs and especially large breeds prone to hip or elbow issues.
“ I have had many clients who have had dogs that were showing deterioration in their joints. After being on Excel for a month we begin to see measurable improvements”. Excel products are available at Licking Valley Vet clinic.
Another complementary therapy we offer is Pulse Electromagnetic Therapy which can improve muscle coordination and body awareness. In addition, Dr. Glaza can prescribe NSAIDs or systemic medication injections to help manage symptoms associated with arthritis.
We know this is a problem when Animal Planet has a reality show called “My Big Fat Pet Makeover”! The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) did a study and found 54% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or even obese.
Being a healthy weight is very important. Extra weight puts undue pressure on joints and organs. In addition, fat deposits often lead to inflammation and poor blood circulation causing more problems down the road.
Senior dogs may be more likely to have weight concerns. It is almost a vicious cycle. As the dog ages they become less active, they gain weight and the excess weight can cause them to have joint soreness so that they are less active.
You can stop the cycle by feeding your dog a well-balanced dog food as we talk about next. Most importantly get active with your dog. Playing with your dog will increase their activity level and also make them happy and relaxed.
Invest in a good dog food and learn to read labels. Don’t just buy a “senior” food. Ironically while labeling on puppy foods is regulated – there are very few standards when manufacturing senior dog foods.
Talk to your vet about what to look for in a dog food as far as supplements and protein level. Senior dogs need specific requirements. Many vets recommend that senior dogs have diets that are lower in calories and fat, high in fiber, and higher in protein.
Studies show that aging dogs may need more protein then there younger counterparts. Protein is important for muscle development and repair, as well as energy. Supplements that provide antioxidants, such as vitamin E and Flavonoids, beta carotene, and omega-3 are helpful. Another reason we recommend Excel K-9.
As your dog ages, they have a greater chance of having dental cavities and gum deterioration. When you have your dog’s annual exam your vet will examine their teeth. Healthy teeth are important for proper digestion. In addition, teeth coated with plague and inflamed gums can produce bacteria that can lead to heart and kidney diseases.
Read our article Why Your Dog Needs a Dental Exam.
Dogs can display those classic senior symptoms of senility such as memory lapses, change in the level of awareness and not being as responsive to situations. Veterinarians refer to this as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
- Disorientation even in your home
- Greater anxiety
- Irritable especially towards young children or animals who may move quickly
- Decreased desire to play or go outside
- May have accidents
- Excessive barking
- Does not groom themselves
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in sleep cycle; sleeping more or less, wandering at night
There are several things you can do to make it easier for a dog that is showing signs of senility. Use night lights so they can move around the house safely at night.
Puppy pee pads placed by there bed or the door can help if they can not hold their bladder as long. Remember do not scold an elderly dog for having an accident. They may have a physical or mental reason for incontinence.
Dog beds designed for senior dogs with have more padding and an orthopedic design may help them to sleep better.
As your dog hits mid-life make sure you are getting ready for their senior years by offering them a quality diet, plenty of playtime and regular checkups.
Continue to play with your dog and talk to them as usual. Being alert and interacting with other people and pets will help keep their minds young and active. Your goal is a high quality of life.
Advances in veterinary medicine have helped our pets remain healthier even as they age. Communicate with your vet about any physical or behavioral changes. By continuing to offer exercise and mental stimulation quality of life can continue through these senior years.
Give us a call at 859- 472-4141 if you have any questions or concerns about your aging pet.
Author, Ame Vanorio, is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She teaches onsite and online classes in organic gardening, solar power, and wildlife rehabilitation. She lives on her farm in Falmouth, Kentucky with too many animals to count!